Still Think Qualifying Is Not Important, Do You?

Recently I read that Mark Webber and Christian Horner, both of Red Bull Racing, feel qualifying does not matter much anymore. Really now? Well let’s just take a look at that.

The back story here is the issue of Pirelli’s 2013 spec tire that has been the center of controversy this season. This is nothing new to the followers of F1 be they casual fans or F1 junkies (like myself). But for the sake of anyone else, here is the complaint. The tires this year simply do not last that long and therefore can dramatically affect the outcome of the race. This is their claim anyway, unless of course you are driving a Ferrari or the Lotus add Force India to that list too.

Sebastian is in front, Alonso is six back. Which one do you think is going to win?

Sebastian is in front, Alonso is six back. Which one do you think is going to win?

In Webber’s case he is upset that the car is chewing up the tires and he can only drive the car to about 70% (so he says) of its performance. In the case of team leader Horner, he is upset presumably because pole position, which is usually a lock for Red Bull, has gone to Mercedes this year in dry (normal) conditions. Red Bull has no pole positions when the track is dry and therefore cannot completely dominate on Saturday afternoons.

Side note: Red Bull however is doing just fine, as the team is leading both championships. By the way, why don’t we ask Sebastian Vettel if his three pole positions this year (which now brings his total to 39 quite an achievement) mean anything less to him? I’m fairly confident what his response would be.  Here is what Webber and Horner have said on a number of occasions to several F1 news services.

This is a requote that I found in the F1 section at “Previously,” Mark Webber is quoted by the German-language T-Online website, “qualifying was almost everything — 75 to 80 per cent.”  “It’s now much less than that,” the Red Bull driver added.

Now for Mr. Horner. This quote is from another blog, “It makes you question the value of qualifying. Now the cars can overtake and with such a big difference between old and new tyres, we are going to have to reassess at each track how important it is to get to the front of the grid. Our strategists will look at how we should be structuring our race weekends,” said Horner.

Let me make something perfectly clear, regardless of having their own reasons to make this claim about the importance of qualifying, or lack of it, they are just wrong. You only need to look at this past weekend’s race to see that qualifying is just as important as it ever was irrespective of the tire issue.

Let’s look at the races of Sebastian Vettel who started first and finished first and Fernando Alonso, who started sixth and finished second to realize how the difference of starting one, two, or three vs. four, five, or six can make a big difference in the final outcome of a Grand Prix.

Christian Horner. I respect what you have accomplished at Red Bull, but stop complaining.

Christian Horner. I respect what you have accomplished at Red Bull, but stop complaining.

As I mentioned, Vettel started first, Alonso started sixth and at the race end Alonso was fourteen seconds back. On lap 32 just under half the distance of the race, Alonso was about 30 seconds behind Vettel which was the result of having to start behind several cars. Here are the time intervals at this point.

1) Vettel   2) Hamilton + 17.626   3) Webber + 10.502   4) Alonso + 1.339

It was only after Alonso disposed of Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton that Alonso was able to use the F138 to great effect. After a series of fast laps from Alonso without any cars in front to impede him and with clean air to assist with tire management, it was all too clear that Alonso’s race was already lost on Saturday.

Now there is no doubt that Vettel was controlling the race and could have driven faster, but take into account that Hamilton’s Mercedes in second position could not really challenge, so Vettel had the benefit of not pushing his tires too hard. Had Vettel been pursued by Alonso, my feeling is the gap at the end of the race would not have been so great. First, because currently the Ferrari chassis is more competitive than the Mercedes chassis and second, Vettel did not have to over-stress his tires, he did not suffer any real tire degradation which in turn meant his lap times never really fell off. So the gap stayed consistent.

We will never really know what kind of tire wear Vettel would have encountered if he had a true challenge to his position, and the Red Bull chassis did look very good on tire wear this particular Sunday. However, even at a circuit that is not considered to produce high tire wear, taking into account the Red Bulls tire issues so far this year, there surely would have been some cause for concern had Fernando started second or third.

But back to the point. I have no doubt, had Alonso started second, he would have been a real threat to Vettel, and a real threat for the win. Lets do a little math and see in black and white just what Alonso had to do to wrestle second place away from Hamilton, and further support this notion that qualifying is still very important come race day. On lap 43 the pursuit begins:

lap 43 +7.685′
lap 47 +8.248′
lap 51 +5.686′
lap 54 +3.858′
lap 57 +1.160′
lap 61 +  .574′
lap 63  Hamilton is passed. Conclusion, Alonso erased a 8 second gap in 16 laps at half a second a lap. Just think what could have been achieved had Alonso not been stuck behind four cars at the start and then for 30 laps.

It was right about lap 54 while Alonso was still behind Hamilton that I st

Fernando Alonso. Even in his capable hands, Ferrari still need to solve its one lap problem.

Fernando Alonso. Even in his capable hands, Ferrari still need to solve its one lap problem.

arted to think, crap, if only Alonso had started higher up the grid, third or second, he would have really had a shot at Vettel and the top step of the podium. We would have seen a completely different race develop this past Sunday in Montreal. So I want to say to Mr. Horner, enough with the disingenuous statements that qualifying has been made meaningless this year because of Pirelli. It is instead due to the fact that your car is not designed to optimize the current rubber that Pirelli was directed to provide.

And I want to say to Mark Webber, who incidentally is one of my three favorite drivers in Formula 1 currently, stop with all the excuses and just get on with it. I have said this over and over again, everyone had the same chance to develop their car in any direction they wanted. Every team has the same opportunity to go racing given the rules and regulations and the ones that win are the ones that have done the best job overall for the weekend. This also applies to the drivers. They all have the same tires and it is up to each driver to figure out how to drive in a way that will yield a greater advantage than their competitors. End of story.

So for everyone that has bought into the Red Bull smear campaign about qualifying, hit play on the DVR and re-watch the Canadian GP. Watch how the car in red made a huge effort to catch the car in blue, and had the pace, but ran out of time. Ran out of laps. Then tell me that qualifying still does not matter.

-jp- (and come on Maranello, we need to be qualifying better)

P.S. By the way, of the three races this year in which Vettel and Red Bull have taken top honors, they did so because of a great chassis, Vettel’s great driving, fantastic teamwork, and well thought out strategy. And of these three races that Vettel has won, one was from second, the other two …. wait for it …. thats right …                       from pole position…  I rest my case.    -jp-

6 Comments on “Still Think Qualifying Is Not Important, Do You?

  1. Agree JP. Pole position is always important.

    I think Horner and Webber were trying to emphasize how the tyres won’t let them race (that’s what they have always complained) rather than saying qualifying isn’t important. They had a crack at the pole position with Vettel in all races expect China. If quali doesn’t matter, then why ruin the tyres Horner? I think even they know that it’s important but just want to raise a point about the tyres.

    And I think the pole position is actually more important for Red Bull than others. They usually set up their cars for maximum down-force which gives them a faster overall lap-time. But if they are stuck behind cars, without the straight-line speed to match the others (Vettel was clocked 20th in the speed trap this weekend I think), they might struggle to overtake, more than others. So I think for Red Bull, it is very important that their drivers (actually Vettel) are ahead of the pack at the end of the first lap.

    • hey Tom
      agreed, which is why when i keep hearing anyone really just so happens it is (ironically this has not been the case been the case recently but might come up again at silverstone) Horner that i am picking on, ha ha make this claim i thought, “that does not sound quite right.” this has been on my mind for a little while with the tire issue that you correctly point, and the way canada played out made me think about it a little more critically, so fingers to key board. as always your comments are well thought out and intelligent. jp

      • Thanks JP.

        I fully expect to hear about the tyres and how bad they are, at Silverstone; specially if it’s dry. Vettel might get pole but could struggle with tyres. If that happens, expect Horner to come up with the usual complaints.

        Anyway, in Canada, I think the pole sitter had an added advantage as he could push more due to:
        – Canada not being hard on tyres compared to other circuits
        – all new dry tyres being available to the drivers for the race due to qualifying on inters

        But still, I think Vettel would opt to start on pole with used tyres any day rather than start down the grid with shiny new tyres.

  2. All you say seems to be true about qualifying but you forgot to mention the most noticeable thing that happened here in Montreal between qualifying and racing. Mercedes! After the tire test, they DID NOT suffer the same tire degradation that they did earlier in the season. Coincidence? I think not. They claim they learned nothing from the testing they did in “Disney World” but seems like Lewis only lost one position in race trim….. hhmmm.

    • Doug
      wondering when someone was going to call me on that one. i am working on a new post now. give you one guess what it will be about. does the number 1000Km ring any bells??? jp 😉

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